in contrast to the repressive look
A camera pans slowly over the curves of a woman’s body — and every woman in the audience rolls her eyes. That sensual, ravenous, kinda porn-y perspective? It’s our old friend, the male gaze, a theoretical term coined in 1975 by the film critic Laura Mulvey that’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. In cinema, the male gaze looks while the female body is looked at; the gaze can come from the audience, from a male character within the film, or from the camera itself. Think of the scene in Transformers, when Megan Fox “fixes” a car by leaning sensuously toward its engine as the camera slithers around her taut abs (she’s wearing a crop top, of course), and then up the front of her body, and then down her back. It’s palpably gross. We’ve seen the technique onscreen a million times.
What is the female gaze, then? It’s emotional and intimate. It sees people as people. It seeks to empathize rather than to objectify. (Or not.) It’s respectful, it’s technical, it hasn’t had a chance to develop, it tells the truth, it involves physical work, it’s feminine and unashamed, it’s part of an old-fashioned gender binary, it should be studied and developed, it should be destroyed, it will save us, it will hold us back. The female cinematographers involved in the project have as many opinions on the female gaze and its helpfulness (or lack thereof) as you might expect from a group of talented, thoughtful, highly trained people who are more than just “female cinematographers.” Here’s what a few of them have to say about how they see the world from behind their cameras.
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